I've been wanting to write about our experience with Spanish day care since Roman began last September but I feared the post would be too long (I have too many opinions on the subject apparently!) and also because I had no image to go along with the post since Roman's school is strictly, but understandably, no photos. But now that he's been there a year--today was his first day back after a two month vacation--I've decided to just get on with it. Prepare yourselves for a long read. :)
Before I get into talking about our experience, I should probably provide a little info on the day care system here. First, there are both private and public day cares or guarderias as they're called in Spanish. The public day cares are subsidized by the government and have a very good reputation. Because of this, the spots are limited and highly coveted and entrance is not guaranteed. Private day cares tend to be more expensive and they can vary widely in quality. But the private ones can be attractive options for parents who work a lot since the schools stay open later, they don't have as many public holidays where the school is closed, and the summer and winter breaks are not as long. We also know people who decide to put their child in private day care because they want their child to be spoken to in English rather than in Catalan which is what children would learn in a public guarderia. You may also go the private route if your child doesn't get a spot in a public school or you missed the enrollment period.
On the other hand, public day care is very attractive to many parents not only because it's very good but also because it's cheaper. I have to mention that Spanish day care isn't even as cheap as public day cares in other parts of Europe BUT while it isn't cheap, it is affordable. Our son attends a public school and we pay something like 300 euro a month, (almost $400) for full time care with meals included. This is nothing compared to what friends of mine back in the States pay. We have friends in Miami who pay $1000 a month for one child and the parents have to provide the meals.
The affordability of Roman's school is amazing obviously, but we're not just happy with his school because of how affordable it is. We also love it because it has exceeded our expectations in so many ways. The teachers are excellent, the meals are prepared on site and are served in courses (I will devote a separate post to the food since this post is already getting too long) and the kids are exposed to all sorts of things that they might not be at home including music,dance, and art. There's no TV watching, no computer time, no screens at all. It's just semi-structured play interspersed with mealtimes and naps.
We especially appreciate the emphasis on doing things independently and picking up after themselves. There is a Montessori aspect in the layout of the classrooms and the required things the little ones have to bring with them to school. In the classrooms there are little chairs and tables, tiny sinks and potties, and each toddler has a designated spot where they hang their washcloths, jackets and schoolbag. Schoolbags must be of the drawstring variety so that the little one can open and close it himself which he wouldn't be able to do with a zippered bag. The school requires the littles to wear bibs with elastic bands rather than bibs with snaps so that the children can pull the bib on and off by themselves at mealtime. They are also expected to put their empty plate on the lunch cart when they're done eating and then wash their hands and mouths at the sink.
From our perspective, day care has been a wonderful experience for both us and for Roman. His school is a safe place for him to run and climb and explore and make a mess which he can't do in our home (or he can but with less abandon). Also he learns from the other kids and imitates them. Sometimes this is bad (like when he learned to hit) and sometimes it's good (like when he learned how to feed himself). For our part, we've been impressed by how much he's grown up and how much of this is due to school. We have a tendency to do everything for Roman because it's easier, faster and cleaner. But in school, because he's taught to do things by himself, we are learning to back off and watch him tackle things on his own. The schedule is fairly structured in Roman's school; the kids play outside in the patio in the mornings, then they come inside to play some more, then they wash up for lunch, eat, wash up again, nap, have a snack and then play until the parents come to pick them up. It's actually been a big help for us to copy the routine he has in school (lunch, then nap, then snack) because we think Roman is more at ease when he knows exactly what to expect and that the routine is the same everywhere.
When Roman first began school, it was pretty hard for me to be apart from him for hours a day especially because he spent the whole first year of his life at home with me. I felt like I should be with him and that he would be happier at home with me. I wasn't working that much at the time and I felt guilty that I had time to take care of my kid, I was just opting not to. I didn't realize how burned out you can get taking care of a baby 24 hours a day every day. It doesn't leave time for work, exercise or hobbies. Also, I didn't consider that while Roman would have a rough period adjusting to being in someone else's care, he would indeed adjust. He now enjoys his school so much that he never wants to leave and sometimes I have to drag him out. He's had so many great experiences at his school--he saw his first puppet show, had his first painting, dance and music class, and made a lot of friends. Even though I miss him when he's in school, I think it's been important that he spends time away from us so that he learns not to take us for granted and for us, the same applies. I've found that we all appreciate each other much more when we're not together all the time and we have time to miss each other.
Finally, I've noticed that since Roman began at his school, the Professor and I feel much more integrated into society than before. We meet up with his classmates and their parents at the local park, we learn about Catalan traditions and holidays and we discover the ways that parenting is similar in the U.S. and the ways it's different. In summary, it's been a learning experience for all of us, but one that we're very happy to have had.
I leave you with a shot I surreptitiously took in his school of Roman in the birthday crown that he and his classmates decorated. He looks a bit pouty here because he doesn't like wearing things on his head, but he actually had a really good day that day. I'm sure he won't remember it in a few years, but this was a place where he was happy.
P.S. Stay tuned next week for Part II about the school lunches.